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By Stephen Winham, guest columnist

Caveat:  I worked closely with Buddy Roemer as state budget director.  I have only the barest of acquaintances with John Bel Edwards. For this reason, I must question how fair my comparison of the two can be.  I admit I am disappointed in John Bel Edwards’ performance as governor to date and have admired Roemer’s efforts even more with the passage of time.

As he assumed office as governor of Louisiana thirty years ago, Buddy Roemer faced a huge budget gap left by his predecessor. The solution was difficult and was complicated by a recalcitrant legislature.  The gap was closed, and a surplus generated within the first year of Roemer’s administration.  In addition, comprehensive budget reforms were enacted to limit the probability of a recurrence of such a gap.

A similar scenario confronted John Bel Edwards 28 years later, yet two years into his administration he has made no real progress on the budget front in terms of balance or reforms.  Roemer and Edwards are very different people and the opposition to their administrations have different roots.

Roemer was, and continues to be a true reformer.  He had little regard, until it was too late, for his gubernatorial re-election chances.  Edwards seems to have been running for re-election from the first day of his administration.  Roemer attempted to buck the system.  Edwards tries to work within it.  They were both elected as Democrats.

Roemer and JBE were improbable victors in their races for governor.  Roemer came from last in the polls to the top (albeit by only 3 points) going into the 1987 primary election.  He won the general election with only 33% of the vote.  His closest competitor was fellow Democrat and three-term governor, Edwin Washington Edwards.  EWE conceded the race rather than face Roemer in a run-off – and denied him an electoral mandate.

JBE was considered a dark horse candidate from the beginning. The only major Democrat in his gubernatorial race, John Bel Edwards finished first in the primary election with 39.9% of the vote. He was expected to lose to his Republican opponent, U. S. Senator David Vitter, in the general election. Despite Vitter’s 23% showing in the primary election, and his personal problems, he was considered a sure winner in the run-off.  To the surprise of most political analysts, JBE won with 56.1% of the vote.

Roemer and JBE were each elected because people were looking for something dramatically different.   Roemer promised to “slay the dragon” and end corruption and special interest control over government.  JBE vowed to bring common sense, fiscal responsibility, and compassion for ordinary people to the office.  Roemer was strident, JBE is calm.

Governors are not dictators.  There is little they can do without action by the legislature and consent, when needed, of the judiciary.  Despite his lack of an electoral mandate, Roemer was able to quickly get a lot of good legislation enacted, mainly because the need was abundantly and undeniably clear – and he was a convenient scapegoat if things went wrong later.   A strong contingent of legislators were loyal to Edwin Edwards and bitter that he was not still governor.  While they went along with the emergency measures Roemer proposed to address the fiscal emergency and reforms including the creation of an official revenue forecast by a new Revenue Estimating Conference, opposition intensified over time.

Historically, Louisiana’s governors were powerful enough to anoint legislative leaders – an obvious plus for enacting an agenda.  The most powerful of those leaders are the house speaker and senate president. The senate is, by its size and nature, a more powerful and cohesive body than the house.  In the middle of Roemer’s term, the senate dealt him a severe blow by replacing his chosen president and returning EWE’s powerful senate president, Sammy Nunez, to that office – an office he continued to hold until he left the legislature in 1996.

Roemer proposed several progressive tax increases that failed in the legislature and the electorate, including a decrease in the sacrosanct homestead exemption.  It is no small irony that he eventually agreed with EWE’s earlier push to legalize gambling and supported an even broader entry into that sector –  the lottery, riverboat casinos, and video poker.

Roemer steadily lost political power as his term went on.  Despite pushing for and achieving hundreds of millions in teacher pay raises, he was vilified because he also pushed a teacher accountability program roundly criticized as unfair by teachers. His environmental reforms angered oil and gas, chemical, and other industries.  He was increasingly perceived as arrogant and hard to work with.

Anxious for EWE’s return, his supporters became even harsher in their opposition to Roemer’s administration.  In 1990, on the grounds it violated federal law, he vetoed a bill passed by the legislature that banned abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  The legislature overrode his veto (a very rare event in Louisiana).  The law was struck down by a U. S. District Court in 1991 for the very reason Roemer had vetoed it, but it didn’t matter politically.

In 1991, Roemer switched parties.  While the national Republican Party sent in big guns to help him get re-elected, emphasizing his scandal-free administration and his budgetary, campaign finance and environmental reforms, he never had the support of the state Republican Party, very many legislators, or the special interests he had disdained.  Quite the contrary. The state party endorsed another candidate and legislators and special interests actively attacked Roemer. It didn’t help that Roemer did not really focus on the campaign but rather continued his zeal for reform to the end. He finished 3rd in the primary and endorsed EWE in the runoff with David Duke – an embarrassing race.  He ran again in 1995 as a conservative Republican but ran 4th in the primary.

His high school’s class valedictorian, like Roemer, and a West Point graduate, versus Roemer’s Harvard education, John Bel Edwards was a conventional, but conservative Democrat.  He is the son of a southeast Louisiana sheriff, Roemer the son of a northwest Louisiana plantation owner. Like Roemer, his biggest obstacle has been the legislature, but for somewhat different reasons.

Louisiana now has a strong Republican Party that believes we should have a Republican governor.  Partisanship was not a big issue when Roemer was governor, but it certainly is now and has gotten more so since JBE became governor in 2016.  Although he had a solid record as a Democratic state representative, what seems to matter most is that he is a Democrat.  Not only do Republicans now control both houses of the legislature, but all statewide elected officials except the governor are now Republicans.  Regaining the governor’s office is a number one priority of the party and since John Bel Edwards has been running for re-election from day one he presents an easy target.

The state house of representatives openly rejected JBE’s choice for speaker.  Rather than elect one of his harshest critics (Cameron Henry who withdrew from consideration), they chose a compromise candidate, the low-key Taylor Barras – who had not even been mentioned as a contender before he was elected.  Not since Huey Long’s administration had the state house elected a speaker not endorsed by the governor, though as noted above, the state senate did unseat Roemer’s chosen president.

Nobody doubted we had a severe fiscal problem when Roemer was elected, but many would argue that we simply spend too much money today – end of story.  JBE’s Republican opposition relishes reports of waste and abuse in the media and remains unconvinced he has done enough to address them.  The governor has not specifically answered the charge he does not do enough to hold his appointees accountable for fiscal irresponsibility unless the media is relentless in reporting it.  This has not helped his case for more revenue.

JBE has proposed both revenue measures and cuts.  However, his proposals are often open to widespread criticism.  When he recommends cuts, they are dramatic and are not presented in such a way that the legislature or public believes they are the only, or the best, ways to cut the budget.  They do not seem to explicitly address the waste and abuse people read about on LouisianaVoice, in the newspapers, and see reported on television.

On the revenue side, JBE did not initially focus on proposals by the task force specifically created to present options for dealing with the “fiscal Cliff.”  That cliff has been forestalled by two years of temporary taxes. The centerpiece of JBE’s revenue proposal last year was the previously unheard of and dead on arrival Commercial Activity Tax.  The CAT constituted over 60 percent of his original package and was so watered down by the time it was actually introduced, it lost what little value it had and was quickly withdrawn.

Another year has passed, and the governor has proposed revenues more in line with what the task force recommended.  The cuts he has recommended are devastating.  His critics in the legislature don’t really like anything he puts forth and as the next election gets closer the criticism is sure to get harsher.

The governor has asked the legislature to present and enact its own proposals if it doesn’t like his.  The legislature has responded by recommending an accountability system and little else.  The proposed system seems to have been presented as a distraction from the need for immediate, concrete, and sustainable solutions.

Let’s face it.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Our fiscal status and options have been studied dozens of times over dozens of years.   The governor can recommend things all day every day, but only the legislature has the power to enact measures to authorize them.  Whether the governor has made truly responsible proposals or not, it is ultimately the legislature’s responsibility to act.  They can blame the governor ad infinitum, but the final responsibility is theirs and the excuse they don’t know enough to come up with solutions is a patently empty claim.

Roemer was able to get a lot done through the legislature in his first year when he had his best chance to do so.  JBE’s chances of significant accomplishments will apparently continue to diminish with time.  Even with the help of the most powerful and long-serving member of the legislature, Senate President John Alario, he has been unable to succeed.  A bloc of opposition in the house stymies him repeatedly.

I am of the considered opinion that we could all save a lot of time, grief, and money by simply agreeing, right now, to make permanent the temporary sales taxes currently in effect, cut as necessary for the difference, and hope for a better, more responsible future under new leadership.  A fool’s hope, perhaps, but at least everybody would be able to make plans for more than a year or two into the future – individuals and businesses.

LABI and other business interests are hypercritical of JBE and, of course, any business taxation.  In the absence of sustainable solutions how can they possibly expect vigorous business expansion and prosperity?  Future taxes are unpredictable, regardless of temporary incentives. How can they, or we, have hope our mediocre infrastructure, educational system, and other public services will not continue to decline?

Trying to ruffle as few feathers as possible in hope of re-election has not worked for JBE.  Ruffling as many feathers as possible may not have worked over time for Roemer, but we are still profiting from major accomplishments in his first few years.  He wasn’t a good politician and maybe that’s why he never got the credit he deserved.

Whether JBE is a good politician remains to be seen.

 

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Corruption.

As the March 12 opening day of the critical 2018 regular session approaches, and with the looming possibility of the call of a special session to address fiscal Armageddon, it’s an important word for Louisiana citizens to remember.

Corruption.

In a state where administrators, legislators, and judges all seem to be in it for personal enrichment, it’s a word that has become synonymous with political office—from small town mayors, city councils and police chiefs to the highest levels of state government.

Corruption.

Like a cancer, corruption metastasizes until it adversely affects every aspect of our lives: education, economics, environment, health, and not least, trust in our elected officials.

Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, recently collaborated to conduct their fourth Corruption in America Survey, an undertaking first initiated in 2014 and repeated annually.

Since 2016, the survey has been hosted by the newly-founded Institute for Corruption Studies, an independent research institute within the Illinois State University’s Department of Economics.

More than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across 50 states participated in the survey. Reporters from every state except North Dakota and New Hampshire participated.

Click HERE to read the complete results.

To no one’s surprise, Louisiana ranks among the worst states in terms of executive, judicial, and legislative sleaze—in both legal and illegal corruption.

What, exactly, it meant by legal and illegal corruption? After all, corruption is corruption, is it not?

Well, yes and no. Illegal corruption was defined by Dincer and Johnston as “the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

How Gauche. Everyone knows that in Louisiana the preferred method is legal corruption, which the two researchers defined as “the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”

For evidence of that, one need look no further than the LouisianaVoice STORY of Aug. 28, 2016, to see how Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and a gaggle of legislators fell all over themselves in protecting the big oil and gas companies from their responsibilities to clean up after themselves. Here is a more detailed look at .

Who better to serve as director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority than former State Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish, the top recipient of OIL AND GAS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS?

And Bobby Jindal handed out appointments to the most influential boards and commissions to his biggest campaign contributors like candy on a Halloween night and even upgraded a major highway in South Louisiana to benefit a company run by another large contributor.

Dincer and Johnston said that official legal corruption is moderately to very common in both the executive and legislative branches of government in a “significant” number of states, “including the usual suspects such as Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York,” but that “Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana are perceived to be the most corrupt states” in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Illegal Corruption

Only 13 states were found to have moderately common to very common illegal corruption in their executive branches. Louisiana was one of those 13.

Only four states had illegal judicial corruption deemed to be moderately common (Alabama and Louisiana) or very common (Arkansas and Kentucky). Dincer and Johnston wrote that even a finding of only slightly common in illegal judicial corruption “is still worrying since it is the judicial branch of the government that is expected to try government officials charged with corruption.”

“State legislators are perceived to be more corrupt than the members of the executive branches in a number of states,” the researchers said.

To illustrate that, the survey found just six states with legislative illegal corruption that was very common (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana) or extremely common (Oklahoma and Pennsylvania).

Legislators were found by LouisianaVoice to have leased luxury vehicles for family members, purchased season tickets to college and professional athletic sports teams, hired family members as campaign staff, paid personal income taxes and state ethics fines—all with campaign funds and all of which were illegal.

One legislator even profited by conveniently investing in Microsoft just as his committee was pushing through approval of one of the company’s software programs at the same time other states were taking similar action. The simultaneous approvals gave Microsoft stock a significant boost.

Legal Corruption

“Legal corruption is perceived to be more common than illegal corruption in all branches of government,” the report said, with Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin scoring highest in legal corruption “in all branches of government.”

Those same three states, along with Arkansas, topped the list in legal corruption in the judicial branch where legal sleaze “is perceived to be ‘very common,’” it said, noting that in all four states, judges are elected as opposed to states where judges are chosen on merit and in which judicial corruption is not as common.

“…We expect our courts to rise above the day-to-day pressures and expectations of politics,” the report said. “That they apparently do not raises serious questions about the ways judges are elected in many states, how their campaigns are financed, and whether conflicts of interest arise as those who contribute to judicial campaigns are allowed to appear before those same judges as cases are tried.”

Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin were joined by Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York as states where legal executive corruption was found to be either “very common” or “extremely common.”

Legal legislative corruption was found to be “extremely common” in 12 states: Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas.

Aggregate Corruption

Across the board, in terms of legal and illegal corruption in all three branches of government, few states do it better than Louisiana, results of the survey reveal, with the state ranking in the upper tier of corruption in all six listings.

That finding prompted the authors of the report to say that corruption in state government “is not just a matter of contemporary personalities and events, but is rather a result of deeper and more lasting characteristics and influences.

Nowhere, it would seem, is that truer than in Louisiana. Following is just a partial list of Louisiana public officials who have come face-to-face with corruption charges of varying degrees:

 

Louisiana Executive Corruption

Sherman Bernard: The first Louisiana Insurance Commissioners to be convicted, he served 41 months for extortion and conspiracy.

Doug Green: The second State Insurance Commissioner to go to jail, he was convicted on three counts of money laundering, 27 counts of mail fraud, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jim Brown: The third consecutive Louisiana Insurance Commissioner served six months for lying to the FBI.

Richard Leche: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting kickbacks on the purchase of 233 state trucks.

Edwin Edwards: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison after his conviction of extortion in connection with the awarding of state riverboat casino licenses.

Charles Roemer: Commissioner of Administration under Gov. Edwin Edwards, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to violate federal racketeering laws, violating the statute and engaging in wire and mail fraud as a result of the FBI’s Brilab operation which also resulted in the conviction of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. Roemer served 15 months in federal prison.

Jack Gremillion: Louisiana Attorney General of whom it was once said by Gov. Earl K. Long, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book,” was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about his interest in a failed loan and thrift company.

Gil Dozier: Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion and racketeering but had eight years added after presiding federal judge learned Dozier had attempted to tamper with a juror and to hire a hit man for an unidentified target.

George D’Artois: Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner was implicated in the 1976 murder of Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie but he died in surgery before he could be tried.

Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo: former Sheriff of Lafourche Parish sentenced to 29 years, five months after pleading guilty in 1989 to solicitation for murder, conspiracy, possessing an unregistered destructive device and using an explosive to damage a sheriff’s car. His victim? His successor and the man who defeated him for reelection as sheriff, Duffy Breaux.

Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish Sheriff sentenced to four years, nine months in prison for conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice in 1995.

Eugene Holland: The first of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to be convicted of a federal crime, sentenced to 16 months in prison for the theft of public funds to cover his utility bills and to pay for renovations to his house and barn. Pleaded guilty in 1996.

Chaney Philips: The second of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to serve prison time after his conviction on nine counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, engaging in illegal monetary transactions, theft involving a federally-funded program, money laundering, and perjury—all related to his time not as sheriff but as parish assessor before being elected sheriff. Sentenced to seven years.

Ronald “Gun” Ficklin: Third consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriff to be convicted of federal criminal charges. Sentenced to five years, three months for trafficking cars with altered vehicle identification numbers, altering VINs, mail fraud, helping convicted felon possess a fun. Pleaded guilty in 2007.

Jiff Hingle: Plaquemines Parish Sheriff pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and bribery, sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Bodie Little: Winn Parish Sheriff convicted in 2012 of drug trafficking, sentenced to 13 years, four months in prison.

Royce Toney: Ouachita Parish Sheriff, pleaded guilty in 2012 to hacking a deputy’s email and phone records and then trying to cover up his snooping. Sentenced to four years’ probation.

Walter Reed: St. Tammany Parish District Attorney (22nd JDC) sentenced to four years in prison in April 2017 for conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements on tax returns. Sentence on hold during appeals process.

Harry Morel, Jr.: St. Charles Parish District Attorney (29th JDC) pleaded guilty in April 2016 to obstruction of justice in FBI inquiry into whether he used his position to solicit sex from women seeking official help. Sentenced to three years in prison.

Aaron Broussard: Former Jefferson Parish President pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiring to accept bribes from a parish contractor. Sentenced to 46 months in prison. While parish officials other than district attorneys and sheriffs are not generally listed here, Broussard is because of his high national profile following Hurricane Katrina.

Ray Nagin: New Orleans Mayor convicted in 2014, sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion for illegal dealings with city vendors. As with the case of Broussard above, mayors not normally included in this list because of the sheer volume. But because of his high profile following Katrina and as mayor of state’s largest city, it was decided to include him.

 

Louisiana Legislative Corruption

Larry Bankston: Former chairman of the Senate Judiciary B. Committee that handled gambling legislation was convicted in 1997 on two counts of interstate communications in the aid of racketeering involving alleged bribes from a Slidell video poker truck stop owner. Sentenced to 41 months in prison. Re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar by State Supreme Court. Currently suing State Attorney General for the cancellation of his contract to represent a state agency.

Gaston Gerald: State Senator convicted in 1979 of extorting $25,000 from a contractor. Sentenced to five years in prison. Re-elected while in prison and put a prison acquaintance on Senate payroll as an aide before he was expelled from the Senate in 1981.

Sebastian “Buster” Guzzardo: State Representative among more than 20 persons, including the leader of the New Orleans Marcello crime family and three reputed New York mobsters, convicted in the Worldwide Gaming investigation. Conviction was for conducting an illegal gambling business and for aiding a mob-controlled video poker company. Sentenced in 1996 to three months in prison.

Girod Jackson, III: State Representative who pleaded guilty in 2013 to tax evasion and tax fraud in connection with his business dealings with the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority. Sentenced to three months in prison, nine months of home detention despite recommendations of 12 to 18 months imprisonment.

William Jefferson: 18-year veteran of U.S. House of Representatives convinced in 2009 on 11 of 16 felony counts for taking bribes in connection with a Nigeria business deal. Seven of the 11 counts on which he was convicted were overturned on appeal. Sentenced to five years, five months after appeals. In 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson interrupted rescue operations by using a Louisiana National Guard detachment to recover personal effects from his home. (His sister, Orleans Parish Assessor, also sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting to funneling $1 million in public funds to her family’s bogus charities.)

Charles Jones: State Senator from Monroe, convicted in 2010 of filing false tax returns and for tax evasion, sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution. Was re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar on Monday (Jan. 29, 2017).

Harry “Soup” Kember: State Representative was sentenced to five years in prison after his 1986 conviction of mail fraud for pocketing part of a $150,000 state grant he secured for a constituent’s company.

Derrick Shepherd: State Senator sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 after admitting that he laundered money for a corrupt bond broker, netting $65,000 for the scheme.

Rick Tonry: Served only four months as a U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District after pleading guilty in 1977 to receiving illegal campaign contributions, promising favors in return for contributions and for buying votes in the 1976 Democratic primary.

 

Louisiana Judicial Corruption

Ronald Bodenhimer: The 24th Judicial District Judge was among four judges to be caught up in the FBI Wrinkled Robe investigation of Jefferson Parish Courthouse corruption and one of two to receive jail time. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to planting drugs on a critic of his New Orleans East marina, for bond splitting, and for attempting to fix a child custody case on behalf of Popeyes Chicken Founder Al Copeland.

Wayne Cresap: The 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to accepting more than $70,000 in bribes and for letting inmates out of jail without paying their bonds.

Alan Green: Another of the four Judges of the 24th JDC in Jefferson Parish. Sentenced to 51 months in prison after his 2005 conviction of a $10,000 mail fraud scheme to take bribes from a bail bonds company.

William Roe: The 25th JDC Judge for Plaquemines Parish was sentenced in 2010 to three months in prison for unauthorized use of movables for pocketing more than $6,000 in reimbursements for legal seminars that he attended as judge. The money should have been deposited in a public account instead.

Thomas Porteous, Jr.: Only the eighth federal judge to be removed from office by impeachment in the Republic’s history, he was convicted in 2010 by the U.S. Senate on four articles charging him with receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors, and deliberately misled Senators during his confirmation hearings. As if to underscore the gravity of the charges, all 96 senators present voted guilty on the first article which addressed charges during his time as a state court judge and his failure to recuse himself from matters involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of granting favors for cash.

There are scores of other examples, including city and parish elected officials, local police chiefs, and even a legislator who resigned rather than be expelled for spousal abuse. And former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain retired in 2016 under an ethics cloud even though he was official cleared of ethics charges. His son, Nate Cain and Nate’s former wife, Tonia, were indicted in August 2017 on 18 federal fraud charges over purchases he was said to have made with state credit cards during his tenure as warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.

Additionally, LouisianaVoice over the past three years documented numerous instances of abuse of power and outright corruption from troop commanders all the way up to the upper command of Louisiana State Police.

There were dozens more not listed and sadly, there will continue to be corruption in all three branches of state government so long as the people of this state continue to look away and ignore the widespread malfeasance and outright skullduggery.

And by ignoring the problem, we are necessarily condoning it.

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Jeff Landry is a man who knows the value of positive public relations.

Negative PR? Not so much.

LouisianaVoice has for months now been attempting to extract some type of information regarding the AG’s progress in investigating that April 2016 RAPE of a 17-year-old female inmate by a convicted rapist—in the Union Parish Jail in Farmerville.

And after months of not-so-artful dodging with the oft-repeated, “This matter in under investigation, therefore I cannot comment on the specifics or answer questions at this time” response of Press Secretary Ruth Wisher, there apparently has been no progress in the investigation.

Recently, though, the AG’s office has altered its method of responding to public records requests—and the method for submitting same.

Once it was sufficient to initiate an official public records request (PRR) to the AG’s Public Information Office with a simple email that began: Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the opportunity to review the following document(s):

Now, though, the AG has abruptly switched gears to require that inquiries be routed through a different office—which would seem to make the name of the Public Information Office something of a misnomer.

Previously, following that referencing of the state’s public records act, one would simply list the documents desired (It’s crucial that you request actual documents and not just general information: public agencies as a rule—there are exceptions—won’t respond to general requests). Here is a recent (Dec. 13, 2017) request submitted by LouisianaVoice for which no response has yet been received:

  • Please provide me a current list (and status) of all criminal investigations undertaken by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office since Jeff Landry’s inauguration.
  • Said status should include all dispositions of cases, including convictions and/or dropped charges, where applicable.

But now, Landry’s office appears to be circling the wagons. No more are we to submit request to the Public Information Officer, which makes public information something of an oxymoron. Here is our latest inquiry about the status of the investigation of that rape case which is now entering its 21st month despite the fact that authorities know the following:

  • Where the rapes (she was raped twice) occurred (in the confines of a small cell);
  • When they occurred;
  • The identity of the victim;
  • The identity of the alleged rapist (who was awaiting sentencing for a prior conviction of aggravated rape)

Here is LouisianaVoice’s request:

“Please provide me an update on the current status of the Union Parish jail cell rape case that occurred in April of 2016.

Should you respond with the usual “ongoing investigation” response, then please try to give me some indication as when this unusually lengthy investigation of a relative uncomplicated matter will be completed.”

Here is the AG’s response:

As you have anticipated, Louisiana’s Public Records Act, specifically La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1), exempts records held by the office of the attorney general that pertain to “pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated, until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled. . . .” Therefore, records related to open investigations are not subject to disclosure until the case is finally adjudicated or otherwise settled. 

Additionally, your request does not identify any currently existing record. The creation of periodic “status updates” is not an obligation imposed upon public bodies by Louisiana Public Records Law, La. R.S. 44:1, et seq. Please direct future requests for press releases to our Communications Division at AGLandryNews@ag.louisiana.gov. If you have any further requests to make pursuant to La. R.S. 44:1, et seq., please let me know. 

With Best Regards,

Luke Donovan
Assistant Attorney General

Well, I can certainly understand that records of pending matters are exempted but how long is Landry going to let this languish? The victim has filed suit against the state and Union Parish but that is a civil matter. The rape is a criminal investigation. And while the AG is charged with defending the civil suit, the two are separate matters handled by separate divisions.

And what, exactly, does Donovan mean by “pending criminal litigation”? We have pending civil litigation and we have pending criminal prosecution. Again, they are separate, handled by separate divisions.

But then, Landry is nothing if not a publicity hound. He loves to see his name in print. He just doesn’t have the same enthusiasm for actual work. Take the theft from the DeSOTO PARISH Sheriff’s Office that was turned over first to Landry’s predecessor Buddy Caldwell and then to him to investigate because the victim of that theft was the local district attorney, creating for him a conflict of interests.

Landry never did complete that investigation which pre-dated the Union Parish rape case by two years. It was a federal grand jury that ended up indicting the employee involved.

And finally, there is the ALTON STERLING case which, following the U.S. Justice Department’s punting on the matter, was taken up by Landry last May. Nearly 10 months later, Landry has yet to give any indication as to when he will issue a report on that shooting by Baton Rouge police.

So, Ruth Wisher is stuck with the unenviable task of trying to make her boss look good. It’s not quite as daunting a task as that of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in trying to make a silk purse of the sow’s ear that is Donald Trump, but daunting nevertheless.

The glowing press releases will continue in Landry’s unabashed quest for the governor’s office while the real work of completing the investigation of the rape of a 17-year-old will continue to get short shrift because, realistically speaking, there are no votes to be gained in protecting the rights of a meth addict.

And that, readers, is the very definition of hypocrisy.

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Mike Edmonson has missed his self-imposed deadline.

First, Edmonson, former Superintendent of Louisiana State Police (LSP) screamed foul when a state AUDIT of LSP was leaked prematurely, ostensibly before he’d had the opportunity to review it and to respond.

Then, when WWL-TV ran a screen shot of the auditor’s LETTER to Edmonson, we learned that the alleged “leak” in all likelihood came from Edmonson himself because only two copies of the audit were printed.

One copy went to LSP and the other to Edmonson for his review and comments before publication. But only one of those two copies contained the letter to the former state top cop.

That would seem to eliminate all potential sources of the leak but one: Edmonson himself.

But Edmonson, apparently unaware of the significance of that screen shot, went on the offensive, claiming that he had been grievously wronged by the premature “leaking” of the audit before he had his chance to respond.

“For inexplicable reasons, the confidential draft report regarding me and the Louisiana State Police was leaked to the media and the contents of the draft then was (sic) disseminated to media outlets throughout the State—all before I could respond to the various contentions (sic),” he said in a written statement to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. “Realizing the inherent unfairness to me, the residents of our State, as well as respect for the normal procedures, I trust your office has begun an investigation into this improper conduct and will soon report your findings.

“…Given the publication of large segments of a preliminary commentary, and the apparent breach of normal practices that seems to have disclosed the entirety of the confidential draft report, I am now constrained (sic) to notify you that you can release the report and provide your report to the Louisiana State Senate this week. I, in turn, will promptly deliver my response feeling confident the residents of this State will not prematurely reach conclusions until all of the facts are presented. That is the way the process works, that is the only impartial and objective approach, and I strongly believe that is what our fellow citizens expect.”

On Dec. 14, he said he would submit his official response to the audit’s “various contentions” by Jan. 15, 2018. That gave him a full month to compose his rebuttal.

https://louisianavoice.com/2017/12/14/edmonson-predictably-tries-to-spin-lsp-audit-release-as-gov-edwards-like-lady-macbeth-tries-in-vain-to-remove-the-spot/

January 15, 2018, came and went yesterday (Monday) and a text message to Purpera’s office revealed Edmonson has yet to submit his response.

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The ongoing soap opera of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), which in no way resembles its membership makeup of a little more than a year ago, continues unabated.

In a relatively short time, the commission has undergone a complete membership turnover, has seen two commission chairmen resign under pressure, a member resigning in protest over what he called a lack of integrity on the part of fellow commissioners, the resignations or removals of other members, and the forced resignation of its executive director.

Now that former executive director, Cathy Derbonne, is back with a vengeance—and with an attorney known in Baton Rouge for taking on the establishment in a take-no-prisoners frontal assault.

Derbonne and her attorney, Jill Craft, have filed suit against the Louisiana State Police Commission, claiming that then-Commission Chairman T.J. Doss, commission member Jared Caruso-Riecke, Louisiana State Police upper command (including then-Superintendent Mike Edmonson) conspired to force her from the job she had held for eight years.

DERBONNE PETITION

She claims in her lawsuit that the reprisals started after she initiated an investigation into reports that members of the commission and the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) had violated regulations against political activity by making monetary contributions to several political campaigns, including that of Bobby Jindal and John Bel Edwards.

She alleges in her petition that Doss was sharply critical of her at the LSTA convention held in Lafayette in June 2016. She claims that Doss said the furor over the political contributions were her fault and that she “had lost her mind.”

She says a year later, on July 14, 2016, Doss was detailed from his job in Troop G in Shreveport to Baton Rouge headquarters “with the purpose of closely monitoring and observing (Derbonne’s) daily routine,” and the following day he appeared unannounced in her office to ask when was the last time she had been evaluated “which petitioner (Derbonne) understood was a threat.”

When she brought an unlawful pay increases of as much as 32 percent for Edmonson and four of his top deputies to the attention of the Legislative Fiscal Office in September 2016, many of her administrative duties were taken from her by the commission through the efforts of Doss.

She said on Jan. 7 of this year she received an anonymous letter warning her that Doss, by then elevated to commission Chairman, was leading a “secret charge” for her removal. Five days later, at the Jan. 12 commission meeting, she was told that the commission had the necessary votes to remove her. They pressured her to resign, saying they would humiliate her in public.

She did resign but says in her lawsuit that she was harassed and “constructively discharged” in reprisal for her engaging in activities protected under state statute.

She is requesting a trial by jury.

Only two members, Jared-Riecke and Eulis Simien, Jr., remains from the commission membership that convened on Jan. 12. The commission’s primary function is to consider appeals of disciplinary action against state troopers. But like the administration of former Superintendent Edmonson, it has been rocked with one controversy after another which has made it nearly impossible for it to formulate any cohesive action other than damage control and finding new creative ways to embarrass the Edwards administration.

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